Changing the tune in Victoria (video)
Sept. 23, 2013 at 4:23 a.m.
The sound of loud, vintage guitars blare through a Fender amp and fill the spare bedroom of Sam Hanke's home.
On the floor nearby, he taps the stomp of "Chelsea Nights," and the effects pedal comes to life with a distinct tremble marked by a pulsating purple light.
His workspace - a messy array of electrical components and soldering dust - is a testament to his creative eye, or rather, creative ear.
"I love guitars, I love amps, and I love pedals," Hanke said. "When it comes to the pedal side, I can create something different."
Chelsea Nights is one of Hanke's seven creations ranging from tremolo, delay, overdrives and boosts he created while tinkering in solitude.
"I've always been fascinated with music but never been a great guitar player," he said.
Since Old School FX began in 2010, Hanke, a 32-year-old music junkie, grew his hobby for electronics into a business starting from the copper board up.
Inspired by 1960s distortion pedals and makers like Electro-Harmonix, which specialized in a wilder sound, Old School FX appeals to a crowd of musicians looking for a handcrafted, vintage feel.
Kris Farrow, lead guitarist of the Zane Williams Band - who also worked with Josh Grider Band, Little Brave, and Micky & The Motorcars - owns several Old School FX and some not-for-sale customs like "Farrow Moans."
The two met about five years ago when Farrow played with Micky & the Motorcars. He has toured full time the past 13 years.
After trying out a few effects back then, Farrow's pedal board is now 100 percent Old School FX.
With hundreds of effects manufacturers producing dozens of variations, getting noticed can be extremely difficult. Even more so, with scores of guitar players - famous and non-famous - using the same handful of pedals, Hanke's creations stand out in the crowd.
You can have a distinct sound, but that doesn't mean it's good, Farrow said. "These just flat-out sound great, and they're very durable."
Most of Hanke's success comes from Texas players like him and word of mouth.
"I'm not looking for fame or fortune," Hanke said. "If I can keep making them, I'll be happy."
Hanke, who works at BHP Engineering, earned his accounting degree from the University of Houston-Victoria in 2008. Music has always been an important part of his life.
Before his stint as a "sound guy" for several acts, including The Stephanie Briggs Band and Little Brave, Hanke had always tried to get a better sound from his equipment, whether that meant changing pickups, the type of wood or switches.
He started with guitars before developing a fascination with amps. About 10 years ago, he attempted his first pedal from scratch.
"Right now, I'm doing it because it's fun," he said.
His inspiration comes from his uncle, Archie Criswell, who gave him his first guitar, loaned him an amp and gave him the confidence to build something.
Hanke's wife, Stephanie Hanke, is one of his biggest supporters.
Celebrating their first wedding anniversary in November, they want to expand their home and family. The pedal business will go into consideration.
"It's a big part of our life right now," she said.
The business brings them closer in their relationship and gives them time to spend together, she said.
As competition in the boutique pedal industry grows, Hanke makes a point to work with his customers on a personal level.
He said the difference is in the character.
"I want the pedals to have their flavor to them," Hanke said. "I still want the original sound of the guitar to shine through."
Hanke sells the "Invisible Robot," featuring a 1970s fuzz, the bass overdrive called "Fat Penguin" and the delay called "Miss Turpentine." There isn't a specific person in mind for the effects, just genres - country, rock and blues.
Before any one goes up for sale, Hanke calls on friends like Farrow and Coby Tate to give them a test run.
Tate, a 29-year-old Austin musician, describes them as bouncy, like peanut butter or even chocolate - bitter dark or creamy milk.
"You can hear the difference," Tate said. "He knows exactly what part of the pedal controls the effect. You can get exactly what you want."
Hanke's market is largely in Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston and New Braunfels. While a boutique music shop in Amarillo stocks his pedals, a lot of business is mail order.
Humble as he is, Hanke wouldn't mind the big names using his product, especially in a business that is all about image.
"To try a no-name brand - even when it's the same quality" can be a leap of faith for some musicians, he said.
In five years, he wants the business to be his full-time job and to grow to include an employee or two.
He has a deal set up with Orb Recording Studios in Austin, a rival to Nashville, owned by Matt Noveskey of Blue October.
"They'll have all my pedals in their toys," Hanke said. "Hopefully, the right person grabs it and spreads the word."